Chair Shapira, Chancellor Greenstein, governors, faculty liaison, presidents, and guests,
We, the faculty and coaches, appreciate the additional funding that was granted to the System. And I personally appreciate the opportunity to speak to the chair and the chancellor to try to work out problems before they blow up. I am excited about some of the System’s goals and the board’s work, but it is important to remember the facts on the ground.
Last week I received a phone call from a faculty member who had been retrenched in 2020. The faculty member was still stunned: The faculty member had classes that were enrolled, and they had done what they were asked to do as a faculty member to achieve their rank. But they were nonetheless retrenched. This faculty member felt forgotten and betrayed. After all, the faculty member was not responsible for some questionable decisions that were made at their institution.
I want to assure my colleagues who were retrenched that they have not been forgotten. And I want to urge the presidents here to be still actively trying to recall these faculty.
There were 114 faculty who received retrenchment letters in 2020. There are 27 of these faculty members who were retrenched and have recall rights. I was going to read off the names of these people because I really, sincerely want them to understand that they have not been forgotten. I’m not going to do that — for time’s sake and also because I don’t want to identify them without their permission. But they need to be acknowledged. And acknowledging them does not even begin to tell the story of what happens when retrenchment takes place at a university. When those letters go out, there’s a ripple effect. Some retired so that a colleague might keep their job. Or other faculty members resigned because they were early enough in their careers that they could find another faculty position.
I understand that there are those who think that faculty members believe they are “entitled to a job.” Such a statement, I think, can only be made from a complete misunderstanding of the professoriate. Once faculty have achieved the rank of associate or full professor, a retrenchment is likely the end of their academic career. Ultimately, it is not a matter of entitlement: It is a matter of a special trust. A trust that says, “If you commit yourself to your institution, if you do the things that you are asked to do, that a university would not retrench you unless the situation were so very dire that the existence of the university was demonstrably in immediate peril.”
In fact, the standard that is used by the American Association of University Professors states that there should be a financial exigency before even considering whether faculty jobs are to be put in peril.
Understand that the decision to retrench faculty has dramatic and lasting effect. Recruiting faculty is more difficult because the institution is looked at as one that does not commit to its faculty. After watching their colleagues be retrenched, those who remain are demoralized and left wondering whether they will be next. Certainly that is the case for those faculty who currently still have “intent to retrench” letters, but it is not exclusive to them. The effect carries itself forward to the entire faculty, who are increasingly likely to withdraw and to feel unappreciated and despondent.
I do not think I need to remind anyone that you need my colleagues to do the work — not just in the classroom. You need them to go above and beyond. You need them to be excited to go to work. You need them to go the extra mile for the students.
You need them to not consider the professoriate a “job.” You need, for this System to be successful, for faculty to view it as a calling. That is something people ought to remember when the topic of retrenchment arises. It is what guides the spirit of our contract — that we should together do everything possible to avoid retrenchment.
I know that there are university presidents in this room who do get it. I know that a couple have even gone out of their way to find positions for retrenchees at their universities. We thank you for that.
Chairwoman Shapira, Chancellor Greenstein, and members of the board: We together worked very hard to try to restore trust and build a shared sense of mission for all constituencies. And I still appreciate that hard work. But trust has been severely shaken. Please let it be an imperative part of your mission to restore trust. Please do not forget my colleagues.